OKC wins its ninth straight, topping the Hornets 92-88

BOX SCORE

One Thunder streak ended Wednesday against the Hornets. But the most important one lived on.

Oklahoma City failed to reach at least 100 points for the first time in 12 games, but managed to win its ninth straight, 92-88 over a scrappy Hornets group.

To say this one was ugly would be like calling Kevin Durant a solid basketball player — a gross understatement. The Thunder were unfocused, sloppy, lethargic and uninterested. Just completely out of sync offensively. Now, it’s hard to keep clicking offensively at a high level and there will be nights like this. There are nights shots don’t fall, that the ball movement lacks. It’s about the final score and though this one was far from pretty, it achieved the desired result.

It was one of those games where you’re just waiting for the Thunder to snap out of their trance and explode on an 18-4 run or something. But they followed up a season-low 17 first quarter points with only 19 in the second quarter. The 36 points at half were a season low, but fortunately the Thunder had two things working in their favor: 1) They were only down eight and 2) they were still playing the Hornets.

The Thunder finally got their spark and it came with an unlikely sub. Scott Brooks unchained Reggie Jackson from the Gatorade cooler with about two minutes left in the third quarter and OKC down 10. He promptly drained a 3, played high energy defense and just like that, the Thunder ripped off a 15-2 run spanning the end of the third and beginning of the fourth to take control of the game.

“We needed something different,” Scott Brooks said about using Jackson. “We needed a change of scenery for this game.”

Now, not to minimize Jackson’s impact — because it was real — but there is a chance it was more coincidental than anything else. Brooks had resisted going small to match the Hornets who use Ryan Anderson as a stretch 4, but finally did it late in the third. The jolt didn’t officially come until Jackson subbed in for Russell Westbrook, but OKC going small had as much to do with it as anything else. Nick Collison at the 5, Durant at the 4 and three guards (Maynor, Jackson and Martin) left the Hornets battling against OKC’s speed and quickness. The Thunder switched everything, jumped in passing lanes and hawked over New Orleans’ ball handlers.

It’s something I hope to see more of though. I can understand why Brooks would be so reluctant to go to Jackson in exchange for Maynor. But there’s real talent on the Thunder bench. Just inserting young players like Jackson, Jeremy Lamb or Perry Jones III doesn’t always work. What often does is a situation like tonight where a guy gets to come in and try and do something. Confidence grows, in both Brooks and the player. Spot those guys some minutes here and there and who knows, you might stumble upon a quality rotation guy. The Thunder are only playing nine now, sometimes eight depending on Hasheem Thabeet. There’s a little room for playing time out there to be had.

“You just got to stay ready,” Jackson said. “Of course it’s tough, but once you get out there, especially in this atmosphere, it’s easy to get going.”

It wasn’t finally over though until Greivis Vasquez’s 3 clanged off the iron into Thabo Sefolosha’s hands. Down two with eight seconds left, Monty Williams made the wise decision to go for the win. The first option was shut down by Perk as Anderson flashed to the corner. Fearing a trap he kicked out to Vasquez who threw up an awkward heave, which of course every Thunder fan thought was going in, because they’ve seen it go in before.

Win streaks get harder with time, just because they tend to end. I don’t remember too many 61-game win streaks. Nine straight is very good, any way you get it. An 18-4 record is pretty to look at. But that doesn’t mean the path to it was all that attractive.

NOTES:

  • OKC beat the Hornets by 15 and 21 in the first two meetings and survived by four tonight. Lesson: It’s hard to blow a team out three times. Especially when they change their name in between.
  • For as boring and terrible as this game was, it kind of got good there in the fourth quarter. Exchanging buckets, some knockdown shots, some good plays. Pretty fun.
  • Nick Collison played one of those outstanding six-point, five-rebound games. You just want to yell at the box score once it’s over because it’s not fair to Collison.
  • Kevin Martin was really struggling from the floor, but stayed aggressive with his shot. And it paid off as he knocked down two big corner 3s in the fourth quarter. He started the game 3-10 for just nine points but finished 5-12 for 17.
  • Kudos to Brooks for sitting down what wasn’t working and flexing on his bench a little. Nick Collison was playing terrific and instead of going back to Perk as his 5 in the smallball group, he rode Collison for most of the way. The sub using Perk on that final Hornets possession was smart too because it was obvious they were going to Anderson for the win and Perk has a little more length to combat Anderson shooting over the top of him. And he’s smarter than Ibaka.
  • Jackson said he had no idea he was going to be part of the game tonight. “If you notice, I think [Brooks] probably called it a few times and I was just kind of grounded and stuck on the bench. I thought I heard my name but I wasn’t really sure.”
  • The Thunder shot 11-36 (30.6 percent) in the first half. They shot 20-35 in the second (57.1). That’s a little misleading though because the third quarter mostly stunk too. OKC hit only 8-18 in the third, but in the fourth, found the touch going 12-17.
  • Jackson got lost a few defensive possessions and Brooks wisely subbed him for the last 2:56. Overall though, he was pretty good. His intensity was terrific and he clearly was doing his best to take advantage of the opportunity. Does it mean that he’s now automatically a regular? Likely not. But it does mean that Brooks will probably look to him again if he’s searching for a spark. Like I said, this is often how you find help from the end of your bench.
  • OKC doubled up the Hornets at the free throw line, taking 32 freebies to 16.
  • In the first half, Martin had the ball on the wing with Durant posting against Vasquez. KD was calling for the ball but Martin, for whatever reason, fired a 3 over the top. It missed and on the way back down the floor, Durant had a very words to say to Martin about it.
  • Important: Serge Ibaka was allowed to sniff the ball following free throws tonight. He didn’t have to wrestle it away from the ref.
  • There was a jumbotron proposal tonight. She said yes.
  • Brooks was visibly frustrated with Westbrook not getting back on defense late in the fourth. Westbrook drove the lane and tried to kick out to Durant for 3 but threw it away. He stopped and dropped his arms to his side as the Hornets broke out. Brooks was screaming for Westbrook to get back, but by the time he did it was too late as the Hornets were drilling a 3.
  • Austin Rivers isn’t bad at beating his man. He just has no idea what to do once he does it. He reminds me just a little of Westbrook his rookie season, except without the explosiveness and athleticism.
  • Remember that one time everyone cared about the Hornets coming to OKC? I feel like 70 percent of the crowd totally forgot they used to play here. Makes me miss the good old days with Boki Nachbar and Speedy Claxton.
  • Only 11 turnovers for OKC tonight.
  • The PA guy seemed to really try hard to bring some serious energy in the starting lineups tonight. Almost like he was trying too hard. Also, he pronouncd Xavier Henry’s name, “Zavia.” Which was fun.
  • The crowd was very late arriving tonight and pretty weak until the fourth quarter. At tipoff, it was the most empty seats I can remember seeing in a long time. I mean, the arena was probably 90 percent full, but for Thunder games, it was noticeable.

Next up: Kings at home on Friday.

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